Soft Skills and Where to Find Them

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I discovered “soft skills” somewhat belatedly. As in, just last year. After being a working professional for five years. When my supervisor, who had just on-boarded as our Division Chief, began discussing “soft skills” and how important they were for professional development, that was the first time I had ever even heard of the term. Soft skills? Which means there’s hard skills too?

According to Wikipedia, soft skills are “interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes…among others that enable people to effectively navigate their environment.” Skills that make us people and personalities, according to a friend of mine. Hard skills, on the other hand, are the technical skills that can be quantified. Hard skills are easier to teach, like math, finance, accounting, software development, foreign languages.

For new or next-generation govies, especially those of us who enter the workforce with barely-dried ink on our diplomas, think of it like this: Hard skills are what we studied in school, our majors and our degrees; linguistics, computer science, literature, forensics, etc. Soft skills are how we learned what we studied; negotiation, communication, critical thinking, analysis, public speaking, etc.

So where do you learn soft skills? Everywhere, according to the internet. I’ve narrowed that down for you to my top 4 favorite sources.

  1. Conferences, Seminars, and Training Summits. Most often, these focus on common themes or topics, which presenters and panelists discuss. While they can appear to be discussions on lessons learned or best practices, these events are actually good places to identify what soft skills are necessary for success or overcoming challenges. It may take a little work to figure out the soft skills, but you’ll learn can be very helpful in the long run.
  1. Public Libraries. Libraries have become essential players in providing training or opportunities to enhance soft skills. In particular, many libraries offer computer classes, like the D.C. Public Library, who offers free classes on everything from social media to Microsoft Office, information literacy to operating systems. Don’t forget the books, too. Whether they’re hard copy books you can check out or books you can download from a digital library subscription service like Hoopla, there’s sure to be a lot of information.
  1. YouTube. As you identify specific soft skills you’d like to learn or enhance, or if you need help identifying soft skills, YouTube is a great place to consult. Not only is there so much variety, you can also tailor your search to look up soft skill improvements tailored to your specific personality type, like assertiveness for introverts. Take a look at the U.S. Department of Labor’s channel, which has a small collection of soft skills videos on topics such as attitude, communication, networking, and problem solving. Another great place to start is Skillopedia, whose videos range from business card etiquette to morning routines, body language to office politics.
  1. eLearning Companies. Even though it may be costly to attend an eLearning course like those offered by Management Concepts or HR University, formal eLearning companies should also be considered. At the very least, browsing their websites and course offerings can help identify potential topics to include on your IDP (Individual Development Plan) for a discussion with your supervisor. eLearning courses tend to skew more business formal, offering courses like strategic communications or conflict resolutions, but they do provide classroom environments if you prefer hands-on engagement.

Soft skills are everywhere, even in unconventional places like in film or television (want to learn how to do teamwork with a variety of different personalities? Watch Ocean’s Eleven.). But because soft skills are everywhere, it can be hard to determine where to start when you need help. Hopefully you have a better idea on where to look to find training or examples.

Meganne Lemon is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Marjane

Toastmasters International is a great place to improve your communication skills. Just Google “Toastmasters International Find A Club” to find a club that meets near you!

Maribel

You beat me to the punch Marjane. I was also going to suggest Toastmasters. Compared to the cost of one class at your local community college, it’s very affordable. You can practice your leadership, communication, mentoring & social skills in a club ‘by doing’ in a supportive environment.

Profile Photo Sandra Edwards

A 5th category can usually be found on your agencies training site (if you have one). You can learn about topics like: dealing with different people/cultures; email writing skills; communication styles, etc.